Upfront News and Views: ABC Family Welcomes the “Becomers”

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Cover image for  article: Upfront News and Views: ABC Family Welcomes the “Becomers”

In recent years, ABC Family adopted the “event approach” for contact with the ad community, including a panel with showrunners from its series and last year's “Pretty Little Liars” tweetathon simulcast at the Ziegfield Theater. This year, network president Tom Ascheim and colleagues took a more formal approach – while setting dramatic new goals for ABCF. Instead of singularly pursuing Millennials, the focus now is on "Becomers" -- mostly persons 12-34 who are engaged in "that magical and messy place between their first kiss and their first kid," as Ascheim noted. He estimated 69 million Americans fall somewhere in that arena, with their annual spending in the trillions. To meet their needs, the channel will double its year-round original content by 2019. Also, like Pop Network's pitch earlier this month, ABC Family will encourage advertisers to move dollars their way from other networks. "We get [that] it sucks out there," Ascheim said. "The networks you buy are down in viewers and ratings. We're up, and we have a plan to be up for a long time.”

Venue: SIR Stage 37 on W. 37th St., half a block away from the Javitz Center. Wide room with screens hanging over the front half of the room. Rows of white chairs and a large bar stand in the middle, sofas and couches on either side of the stage and a celebrity photo booth right of the stage. Graffiti-like statements plastered on the walls, including "The Future is Unwritten," "Become with Us," "Anything is Possible" and "Every Exit is an Entrance." Grade: 4 Jacks

Presentation: In recent years, ABC Family adopted the “event approach” for contact with the ad community, including a panel with showrunners from its series and last year's “Pretty Little Liars” tweetathon simulcast at the Ziegfield Theater. This year, network president Tom Ascheim and colleagues took a more formal approach – while setting dramatic new goals for ABCF. Instead of singularly pursuing Millennials, the focus now is on "Becomers" -- mostly persons 12-34 who are engaged in "that magical and messy place between their first kiss and their first kid," as Ascheim noted. He estimated 69 million Americans fall somewhere in that arena, with their annual spending in the trillions. To meet their needs, the channel will double its year-round original content by 2019. Also, like Pop Network's pitch earlier this month, ABC Family will encourage advertisers to move dollars their way from other networks. "We get [that] it sucks out there," Ascheim said. "The networks you buy are down in viewers and ratings. We're up, and we have a plan to be up for a long time.” The information that flashed on those overhead screens supplemented the remarks and the video clips. Grade: 4 Jacks

News: Unscripted series adopting the "Becomers" focus (concentrating on aspirational subjects) will dominate the network's summer fare. “Becoming Us,” the Ryan Seacrest-produced look at a teenager witnessing his father's decision to switch genders, kicks off the push June 8. Following that (dates TBA): “Monica the Medium” (Penn State junior who can communicate with the departed), “Job or No Job” (young adults on first job search from the producers of “Undercover Boss”), “Next Step Reality: NYC” (real estate firm finds housing for college grads) and “Startup U” (venture capitalist Tim Draper teaches the ins/outs of enterprise to millennial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley). “Stitchers,” a mix of cyber-tech and procedural drama, premieres June 2, with business/romance sitcom “Kevin from Work” (from “How I Met Your Mother” writer/producer Barbie Adler) later in the summer. “Recovery Road,” the long-awaited addiction drama, will come in early 2016, along with young adult fantasy “Shadowhunters” based on the popular book series The Mortal Instruments with McG as executive producer/first episode director. In scripted development: Las Vegas-based music drama “Hearts and Clubs” (with Christina Aguilera executive producing and supplying songs), “Famous in Love” with former “Shake it Up” co-star Bella Thorne, ensemble comedy “Sold Out,” brother mishap sitcom “Gorgeous Morons” and supernatural “Beyond” involving “Heroes”/”Dig” creator Tim Kring. Unscripted possibilities include “I Am Maker” (featuring Maker Studios/Web talent) and “You've Got to Work It” (unemployed women seek new jobs). “We Heart Disney,” a variety special featuring pop superstars warbling classic Disney film songs, is under consideration for 2016. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Host: Ascheim and programming executive vice president Karey Burke projected a great comfort zone on stage. They were the first execs this Upfront season to declare their aim is "world domination, including digital." Makes you believe their network has been doing Uupfront events this way for years ... which, as noted above, is not the case. Grade: 4 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks We'll leave thinking about a network targeting a life stage instead of specific age, gender or multicultural viewership to you. In terms of environment, presentation values and news, everything was showcased in appealing fashion. Having the network’s celebrities, including the casts of “Pretty Little Liars” and "Baby Daddy," mingle with the crowd afterwards was another big plus.

Next up: National Geographic Channel

A quick review of our Jacks system:

5 Jacks -- Excellent
4 Jacks -- Very Good
3 Jacks -- Good
2 Jacks -- Fair
1 Jack -- Poor
0 Jacks--Worse than that

More observations from the passing parade:

Univision announced last week that “Sabado Gigante” (“Giant Saturday”), a top-rated landmark of U.S. Spanish-language TV for three decades (and two decades-plus before that in Latin America) will bid adios for good this September. We may learn what Univision will do with its Saturday nights after that at its Upfront presentation next month. For now, start saluting the incredible mix of games, performances, talent showcases, sketch comedy, travelogues, lifestyle tips and interviews Don Francisco and company present week after week, which are enjoyable in any language. While we're at it, salute “Sabado” as a breakthrough for advertisers to enter Spanish-language TV via all those sponsored segments and jingles warbled by the studio audience, whether from The Home Depot, AutoZone or Domino's Pizza. To paraphrase Home Depot's slogan, that's the power of an innovative program.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

 

 

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